Creating safe injection sites won’t be easy
Drug problem ‘already in everybody’s backyard,’ physician says
Advocates of safe injection sites for intravenous drug users in Hamilton believe they face an uphill battle in gaining public acceptance for the idea. But they feel the effort is worth it. “I don’t expect it will be easy. I’ve already had one particular communication that was rather disturbing. I’m sure it won’t be the only one,” said Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr, whose ward would likely end up with a site if the city allows them.
“There will be some challenges with respect to that whole NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) acronym,” he said.
Hamilton is studying whether to give drug users a legal, supervised site, or sites, to inject opioids such as heroin. The board of health voted Monday to study supervised injection sites so long as the cost fits within the 2017 budget.
As it stands, Vancouver is the only city in Canada with legal supervised injection sites. Toronto and Ottawa have asked for federal legal exemptions to allow sites to be set up in those cities, while London and Thunder Bay are conducting feasibility studies.
Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Green said, “My hope is to have an open and honest conversation in our community.”
He said safe injection sites would likely lead to a decline in needles and biomedical waste being left in “public spaces, be they playgrounds and parks, alleyways, rail yards and the like.
“A safe injection gives people with addictions a safe, controlled environment where they can dispose of their needles in a safe way.”
Police departments have generally opposed safe injection sites. The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police issued a position paper in 2012 that suggested the sites could contribute to rising neighbourhood crime.
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who is police board chair, said at the Monday meeting, “I have trouble with this from a moral perspective.”
Dr. Lori Regenstreif, a Hamilton addictions physician and McMaster University professor, said, “The idea of safe injection sites frightens some people. They can’t understand why we would want help people inject drugs. But when you understand addictions and see it every day, you get a feel for the illness part of it.
“I guess the greatest fear for some people is that it is going to end up in their backyard. But from what I can see in Hamilton, it is already in everybody’s backyard. I’ve seen needles in parks where I never expected to see them.”
Regenstreif, who has observed safe injection sites in Sydney, Australia, says the sites can lead to addicts getting help.
“It is really the best way to engage people when they have that moment when they are saying, ‘I have to stop this,’ and they are exposed to the right people at that moment rather than people they would meet in a back alley.”